Zack MacDonald took one too many steps back.
Up 7–6 in the top of the ninth frame, Chatham needed three outs to cap off its first win in six games. But, as Orleans’ Jack Penney swiped his cleats through the red clay and geared up his barrel, that bid ended shortly.
Penney flicked a looping fly-ball to left field, where MacDonald was stationed. MacDonald backpedaled. With sunshine glistening off the chrome lens of his sunglasses, the Anglers’ outfielder noticed the gap between where the ball would actually land and where his glove was positioned. His sudden recognition of the ball was too little too late. What should’ve been a routine fly-out resulted in a double for Penney.
After Penney reached second base, Matt Halbach drifted to first with a single. Penney rounded third in the process but collided with Lane Forsythe, who stopped the Firebird from scoring. It didn’t matter, though, as Eddie Micheletti Jr. clipped a third straight hit to knot the score at 7–7.
Chatham interim manager Todd Shelton relieved left-hander Maxx Yehl of his duties from there but a wild pitch by his replacement, Jack Brodsky, scored Orleans’ eighth run. What initially began on July 5 turned into the Anglers’ sixth loss in a row on Friday, July 28, as Chatham (10–26–2 East) fell to the Firebirds (20–18–0 East) 8–7.
“The first out of any ninth inning is the big out,” Shelton said. “It doesn’t matter if it comes on a ground ball, fly-out, whatever. He’s [MacDonald] been out there for five innings at that point in time so he should have known how the ball is going to react up in the air.”
It’s not everyday that two teams start a baseball game in the bottom of the fourth inning. Or start in the middle of a three-run rally. But Chatham and Orleans, tied at five apiece, had no choice.
Kaeden Kent at Veterans Field on July 29, 2023. Emma Connelly, Chatham Anglers
On July 5, the Anglers’ home matchup against the Firebirds was postponed due to fog. Nearly a month later, the affair continued at Veterans Field amid blue skies and 90-degree weather.
With two outs and a runner on first and second base, it took just one pitch for Orleans starter Greyson Carter to strike out Carter Trice, even though Trice was not at the plate. Trice had since left the Cape to pursue a MLB opportunity and pinch hitter Brennan Holt took his place.
Holt knelt down in the left-handed batter’s box, signaled a bunt, and watched Carter’s heater sizzle past him. The six-foot-five, 250-pound righty pointed his fist toward the sky and flexed as he skipped over the white-painted dirt and back into the dugout.
“That’s not the first time I’ve seen it,” Shelton said of going into the game in the fourth inning. “I mean, I saw it in a regional tournament where you had a tie ball game and it’s to decide if your season ends or not. There’s a pitcher on the mound and a hitter in the box so you just gotta go at it.”
After a scoreless fifth frame, Eddie King Jr. led things off in the top of the sixth with a low-rising shot to right-center. King advanced to second base on an Owen Carapelotti bunt, which Yehl grabbed off of the infield grass and threw to first on a fielder’s choice.
After Yehl hit Drew Faurot and Jake Casey back-to-back, Jo Oyama stepped up to bat. The last time the A’s faced Orleans, in a doubleheader on July 21, Oyama blasted his first two home runs of the season. But instead of sending a deep ball over the fences, the five-foot-seven lefty and Orleans’ batting-average leader chipped an infield single to the shortstop to give the Firebirds’ a 6–5 lead.
“They can hit, man,” Yehl said of Orleans’ lineup. “Lot of lefties, so making me more comfortable throwing my pitches, you know, on the far side of the mound because I basically throw behind them. It’s definitely weird facing that many lefties, but that’s the Cape.”
Bryce Martin-Grudzielanek lowered his protective evo-shield mitt so it mirrored the infield clay. Taking a lead from first base, Grudzielanek hustled toward second after Forsythe lifted a single into shallow center field in the bottom of the sixth inning. MacDonald produced a grounder to Faurot on the left side of the infield who misfired a hopper to first, scoring Grudzielanek to tie the game.
With Fabian in the right-handed batter’s box, Carter dug a four-seamer into the dirt which skipped behind home plate and scored Forsythe to give the A’s a 7–6 advantage. Carter, who entered the affair boasting a 0.00 ERA, still did not own an earned run because both scores were recorded as errors in the feld.
“The game strategy—you don’t know where he’s gonna be,” Shelton said of Carter. “You’ve seen him at times wild and you’ve seen him at times pounding strikes and knowing that you’re only getting one pitch in that situation. It’s tough walking in there hitting 99 miles [per hour] but hopefully we’d get walks to get the next batter a fresh AB.”
A pinch hitter, Fenwick Trimble, entered the game for Orleans in the top of the eighth inning but Yehl had no problem with the assignment, inducing an immediate groundout. Oyama nearly tripped over himself in the next at-bat, whiffing on a fastball that would have drilled him in the mid-section had he not generated a strike. Yehl proceeded to notch his fourth and fifth strikeouts of the contest from there.
“Just tucking my glove hand has helped with my command this year,” Yehl said. “I feel like people learn that when they first start playing baseball. Guess I just never figured it out.”
Carter kept Orleans’ deficit at just one run in the bottom of the eighth frame and Yehl took the mound to cap off his unusual relief performance. MacDonald’s misread in left field ensued and the Firebirds never looked back, taking an 8–7 lead which reliever Sean Matson maintained in a scoreless bottom of the ninth for Chatham.
“It’s just the way the season’s been going,” Shelton said. “We haven’t been able to just solve the puzzle of finishing ball games.”